People at dinner parties discuss mindfulness. Celebs in glossy magazines brag about mindfulness. My mum even talks about mindfulness.
But my mum doesn’t talk about sex-tech.
And yet, just a few years ago, she probably wasn’t talking about mindfulness either. In fact, she would have avoided talking it. It probably would have made her feel uncomfortable.
So what changed? How did something that was once viewed as “out there," become mainstream?
The sex-tech industry is booming. The value of the industry is huge - estimated in the region of $30.6 billion. Sex-tech start-ups are popping up all over the place. Amazon is now the biggest seller of sex toys in the world. And sex-tech innovation has the potential to change our bedroom behaviour forever.
And yet, no brand has managed to make sex-tech mainstream.
The sex-tech industry is still, to a large extent, shrouded in mystery and unease. And while it is true that the sex-tech industry is hampered in its ability to get funding and access to services, the real issue for sex-tech companies is much more fundamental. Stigma. Our age-old discomfort with sex, and how anything sex-related is, well, just a bit sleazy.
Meditation has been around for thousands of years. And while millions practice for religious reasons, it is only relatively recently that meditation or mindfulness has become a mainstream activity. Only a few decades ago, the word meditation would conjure up an image of someone sitting in a darkened room, legs crossed, eyes closed, joss sticks burning and humming some monotone tune.
Today mindfulness is everywhere and practiced by (its seems!) everyone. I can wake up and make a cup of mindfulness tea, listen to a guided mindfulness exercise on my way to work, drop into a mindfulness class or simply read the thousands of books and articles on the subject. If I worked at Google or McKinsey, mindfulness would probably also be in my work agenda too.
So, what lessons can the sex-tech industry learn from mindfulness? How did mindfulness transform meditation from an activity with almost cult-like association into a globally accepted life-enhancing activity with a booming business empire to match?
Mindfulness is mediation by another name. But by building a new positioning, it was able to sidestep all the negative connotations associated with meditation.
When Jon Kabat-Zinn, widely hailed as a mindfulness master, founded the Mindfulness Stress Reduction programme in 1979, he knew he couldn’t gain acceptance of the programme if it was tied to eastern religious practices or notions of enlightenment. Instead, he adopted non-religious terminology, focusing on the benefits of stress reduction. Quite simply, he associated mindfulness with making people feel better. It was widely popular.
The sex-tech industry needs to rethink its positioning. It needs to tap into consumer insights that will make it more acceptable and shake off the sleazy associations.
A good example is MysteryVibe who is sidestepping sex-toy stereotypes by focusing on personalised pleasure. The company wants to “empower relationships, conversations and individuals through pleasure.”
Develop your brand personality
Years ago, meditation was a serious business. Books about Buddhism, incense sticks and mantras were all part of the deal.
Then along came mindfulness, and with it a whole new wave of fresh, vibrant and altogether more friendly brands who have helped to give the whole industry a more positive feel. Companies such as Headspace and Calm created brands that helped make mindfulness much more light and fun.
There are already some great examples of companies in the sex-tech industry who are developing brands that have more positive, fun and upbeat personalities. Dame Products recently raised one million dollars in funding, for their millennial-friendly, fun vibrators.
Make it accessible
In the past, meditation was prescriptive and demanding. Either you were in or you were out. If you were in, you needed to meditate twice a day and in the right way.
Mindfulness is now open to everyone in all sorts of places and in all sorts of ways. Companies have been smart and packaged mindfulness in a way that suits our busy lifestyles. Now everyone can be mindful, even it’s just for a one minute a day, with apps such as Buddhify or Simple Habit.
There is the opportunity for sex-tech to be more accessible with products that are easier to access and easier to use for the way we live today. Unbound, a luxury sex toy subscription service, is attracting mainstream attention through its “curated experience, delivered discreetly to your door, once every three months.”
Focus on Improving, not fixing
In the past, meditation and even mindfulness was viewed as self-help. You might go to the library to find a self-help book, read it discretely and bury it in your bookshelf. But mindfulness successfully shifted its image from self-help to self-improvement and in doing so made it something you were happy to talk about openly.
The sex-tech industry needs to think about shifting its focus from fixing your sex life to enhancing your sex life. Sex-tech intimacy app Pillow Play, for example, intends to “rekindle desire in intimate relationship.”
Partnering for success
Mindfulness is now seen as part of a healthy lifestyle, just like eating nutritious food, using organic cosmetics or going to the gym.
Indeed, partnership has been a key part of the success of mindfulness going mainstream. Headspace, the most well-know mindfulness app around, has gone mainstream through its countless partnerships with celebrities such as Jessica Alba, Jared Leto ,Gwyneth Paltrow, Emma Watson and Zach Braff.
For sex-tech companies, partnership many well be the key to success. The right brand association with the right execution, could open mainstream minds and wallets.
Focus on mainstream influencers
Mindfulness became truly mainstream when it was written about in Time magazine and The Wall Street Journal and talked about on Oprah. Powerful PR was a big part of the success of mindfulness. Creating a great story and communicating that story in the right way with key influencers was essential.
Crafting the right sex-tech stories and getting the right influencers tuned-in will also be critical for sex-tech companies. Cindy Gallop, founder of MakeLoveNotPorn started a dialog around how real people have sex. Her TEDTalk “Make Love Not Porn” was one of the ‘most talked about presentations’ at the 2009 TED conference.
Amongst the thousands of sex-tech companies out there, it will be fascinating to see who emerges as the dominate players and which brands will go on to have mainstream success.
At Big M, we help companies of all shapes and sizes to build their brands and grow. If you would like to find out more about how to set your brand up for success, then we would love to talk to you.
Until then. Namaste.